Weekend Update – February 17, 2013

It’s all relative.

Sometimes it’s really hard to put things into perspective. Our mind wants to always compare objects to one another to help understand the significance of anything that we encounter. Having perspective, formed by collecting and remembering data and the environment that created that data helps to titrate our reaction to new events.

My dog doesn’t really have any useful perspective. He thinks that everyone is out to take what’s his and he reacts by loudly barking at everyone and everything that moves. From his perspective, the fact that the mailman always leaves after he has barked out reinforces that it was the barking that made him leave.

The stock market doesn’t really work the way human perspective is designed to work. Instead, it’s more like that of a dog. Forget about all of the talk about “rational Markets.” They really don’t exist, at least not as long as investors abandon rational thought processes.

It’s all about promises, projections and clairvoyance. Despite the superficial lip service given to quarterly comparisons no one really predicates their investing actions on the basis of what’s come and gone.

During earnings season one can see how all perspective may be lost. It’s hard to account for sudden and large price moves when there’s little new news. Although I can understand the swift reaction resulting in a 20% drop when Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) announced that it was slashing its dividend, filing for a secondary stock offering and also creating a new class of mandatory convertible shares, I can’t quite say that the same understanding exists when Generac (GNRC) drops 10% following earnings and guidance that was universally interpreted as having “waved no red flags.”

Of course, the use of perspective and especially logic based upon perspective,  can be potentially costly. For example, it’s been my perspective that Cliffs and Walter Energy (WLT) often follow a similar path.

What has been true for the past year has actually been true for the past five years. So it came as a surprise to me, at least from my perspective that the day after Cliffs Natural plunged nearly 20%, that Walter Energy, which reports earnings on February 20, 2013 would rise 6% in the absence of any news. From my perspective, that just seemed irrational.

But of course, perspective, by its nature has to be individually based. That may explain why Forbes, using its unique perspective on time, published an article on February 12, 2013, just hours before Cliffs released its earnings, that it had been named as the “Top Dividend Stock of the S&P Metals and Mining Select Industry Index”, according to Dividend Channel. In this case, Cliffs was accorded that august honor for its “strong quarterly dividend history.”

Apparently, history doesn’t extend back to 2009, when the dividend was cut by 55%, but it’s all in your perspective of things. I’m not certain where Cliffs stands in the ratings 24 hours later.

What actually caught my attention the most this past week is how performance can take a back seat to  perspectives on liability, especially in the case of Halliburton (HAL) and Transocean (RIG). On Thursday, it was announced that a Federal judge approved a mere $400 million criminal settlement against it for its seminal part in the Deepwater Horizon blowout. That’s in addition to the already $1 Billion in fines it has been assessed. In return, Transocean climbed nearly 4%, while it’s frenemy Halliburton, on no news of its own climbed 6%. Poor British Petroleum (BP) which has already doled out over $20 Billion and is still on the line for more, could only muster an erasure of its early 2% decline. For Transocean, at least, the perception was that the amount wasn’t so onerous and that the end of liability was nearing.

From one perspective reckless environmental action may be a good strategy to ensure a reasonably healthy stock performance. At least that’s worked for Halliburton, which has outperformed the S&P 500 since May 24, 2010, the date of the accident.

I usually have one or more of the “Evil Troika” in my portfolio, but at the moment, only British Petroleum is there, at its lagged its mates considerably over the past weeks. Sadly, Transocean will no longer be offering weekly options, so I’m less likely to dabble in its shares, even as Carl Icahn revels in the prospects of re-instating its dividend.

Perhaps the day will come when stocks are again measured on the basis of real fundamentals, like the net remaining after revenues and expenses, rather than distortions of performance and promises of future performance, but I doubt that will be the case in my lifetime.

In fact, the very next day on Friday, both Transocean and Walter Energy significantly reversed course. On Friday, the excuse for Transocean’s 5% drop was the same as given for Thursday’s 4% climb. Walter Energy was a bit more nebulous, as again, there was no news to account for the 3% loss.

So what’s your perspective on why the individual investor may be concerned?

As always, this week’s potential stock selections are classified as being either in the Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” categories (see data).

Technology stocks haven’t been blazing the way recently, as conventional wisdom would dictate as a basic building block for a burgeoning bull market. My biggest under-performing positions are in technology at the moment, patiently sitting on shares of both Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC). Despite Tuesday’s ex-dividend date for Microsoft, I couldn’t bear to think of adding shares. However, despite a pretty strong run-up on price between earnings reports, Cisco (CSCO) looks mildly attractive after a muted response to its most recent earnings report. Even if its shares do not move, the prospect of another quiet week yet generating reasonable income on the investment for a week is always appealing.

Although I was put shares of Riverbed Technology (RVBD) this week, which is not my favorite way of coming to own shares, it’s a welcome addition and I may want to add more shares. That’s especially true now that Cisco, Oracle (ORCL) and Juniper (JNPR) have either already reported or won’t be reporting their own earnings during the coming option cycle. With those potential surprises removed from the equation there aren’t too many potential sources of bad news on the horizon. The healing from Riverbed’s own fall following earnings can now begin.

MetLife (MET) is, to me a metaphor for the stock market itself. Instead of ups and downs, it’s births and deaths. Like other primordial forms of matter, such as cockroaches, life insurance will survive nuclear holocaust. That’s an unusual perspective with which to base an investing decision, but shares seem to have found a comfortable trading range from which to milk premiums.

Aetna (AET) on the other hand, may just be a good example of the ability to evolve to meet changing environments. Regardless of what form or shape health care reform takes, most people in the health care industry would agree that the health care insurers will thrive. Although Aetna is trading near its yearly high, with flu season coming to an end, it’s time to start amassing those profits.

It’s not easy to make a recommendation to buy shares of JC Penney (JCP). It seems that each day there is a new reason to question its continued survival, or at least the survival of its CEO, Ron Johnson, who may be as good proof as you can find that the product you’re tasked with selling is what makes you a “retailing genius.” But somehow, despite all of the extraneous stories, including rumored onslaughts by those seeking to drive the company into bankruptcy and speculation that Bill Ackman will have to lighten up on his shares as the battle over Herbalife (HLF) heats up, the share price just keeps chugging along. I think there’s some opportunity to squeeze some money out of ownership by selling some in the money options and hopefully being assigned before earnings are reported the following week.

The Limited (LTD) is about as steady of a retailer as you can find. I frequently like to have shares as it is about to go ex-dividend, as it is this coming week. With only monthly options available, this is one company that I don’t mind committing to for that time period, as it generally offers a fairly low stressful holding period in return for a potential 2-3% return for the month.

While perhaps one may make a case that Friday’s late sell-off on the leak of a Wal-Mart (WMT) memo citing their “disastrous” sales might extend to some other retailers, it’s not likely that the thesis that increased payroll taxes was responsible, also applied to The Limited, or other retailers that also suffered a last hour attack on price. Somehow that perspective was lacking when fear was at hand.

McGraw Hill (MHP) has gotten a lot of unwanted attention recently. If you’re a believer in government led vendettas then McGraw Hill has some problems on the horizon as it’s ratings agency arm, Standard and Poors, raised lots of ire last year and is being further blamed for the debt meltdown 5 years ago. It happens to have just been added to those equities that trade weekly calls and it goes ex-dividend this week. In return for the high risk, you might get am attractive premium and a dividend and perhaps even the chance to escape with your principal intact.

I haven’t owned shares of Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF) for a few months. Shares have gone in only a single direction since the last earnings report when it skyrocketed higher. With that kind of sudden movement and with continued building on that base, you have to be a real optimist to believe that it will go even higher upon release of earnings.

What can anyone possibly add to the Herbalife saga? It, too, reports earnings this week and offers opportunity whether its shares spike up, plunge or go no where. I don’t know if Bill Ackman’s allegations are true, but I do know that if the proposition that you can make money regardless of what direction shares go is true, then I want to be a part of that. Of course, the problem. among many, is that the energy stored within the share price may be far greater than the 17% or so price drop that the option premiums can support while still returning an acceptable ROI.

Also in the news and reporting earnings this week is Tesla (TSLA). This is another case of warring words, but Elon Musk probably has much more on the line than the New York Times reporter who test drove one of the electric cars. But as with Herbalife and other earnings related plays, with the anticipation of big price swings upon earnings comes opportunity through the judicious sale of puts or purchase of shares and sale of deep in the money calls.

From my perspective these are enough stocks to consider for a holiday shortened week, although as long as earnings are still front and center, both Sodastream (SODA) and Walter Energy may also be in the mix.

The nice thing about perspective is that while it doesn’t have to be rational it certainly can change often and rapidly enough to eventually converge with true rational thought.

If you can find any.

Traditional Stocks: Aetna, Cisco, MetLife

Momentum Stocks: JC Penney, RIverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: The Limited (ex-div 2/20), McGraw Hill (ex-div 2/22)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Abercrombie and Fitch (2/22 AM), Herbalife (2/19 AM), Tesla (2/20 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.

 

Weekend Update – February 10, 2013

On Wednesday of this week, the Postmaster General, Patrick Donahoe, made the announcement that many of us had been expecting for years as the red ink lived up to its a visual onomatopoeia name and hemorrhaged.

No more Saturday delivery for ordinary mail. Unless I’m going away to summer camp this year, I’m not anticipating any extended grieving period for the loss, although like so many other things, the principal wags the principle.

It was a major news story in an otherwise slow news week. Surprisingly, what had gone unnoticed was the additional comment that effective immediately gloom of night would be sufficient cause to suspend delivery. Rain and snow are now also potential impediments to service, regardless of a centuries old social contract.

It’s a new world.

Forget about social contracts or expectations of behavior. Although if you follow the stock market you’re probably accustomed to broken dreams and hopes and rarely come to expect the expected.

Increasingly, data is ignored for its objective and descriptive properties. For example, when The Gap (GPS) announces great quarterly sales, as it did this week, it’s shares fell 4%, despite everyone agreeing that the results were extraordinary.

Equally common is the incredible emphasis now placed upon guidance, as if those issuing guidance have any greater ability to read the future than does the head of a close knit household. As much as I thought I knew about my family I don’t think I ever guessed anything correctly even a day into the future.

Have you ever visited a physicians office and browsed through some dated magazines? As it turns out, with near universal application, those whom we consider to be futurists have a fairly poor track record. Yet, when it comes to guidance, it is the closest thing we have to the gospel and fortunes are made or lost on the basis of the prognostications of people every bit as flawed as the guy you ignore on the subway platform every day.

For me, the past few weeks have broken some personal and inter-personal social contracts. As a die hard covered option investor, risk is the antithesis of everything I value. But as the market has been climbing higher and higher, it’s become harder and harder to find new places to park money. Additionally, the reduced premiums resulting from reduced volatility make it harder to live that life style to which I’ve become so accustomed.

That means only one thing and the devil has to be embraced.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had difficulty finding well priced and conservative investments that would feed my insatiable appetite. As a result, there have been more high beta name and more earnings related plays, not to mention lots more antacids. But sometimes you just do what has to be done.

This coming week looks to be a little different thanks to some market hesitancy. Blame it on Europe, blame it on Draghi, or just blame it on burn-out, I don’t really care, because as bad as we are at telling the future, we’re at least equally as bad at recognizing causation and correlation. It’s not like pornography. You don’t necessarily know it when you see it. But for whatever reason, this week, unlike the preceding month, it seemed easier to spot some lesser risk potential investments

As always, stocks are categorized as being either Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend or “PEE” (see details).

British Petroleum (BP) has no shortage of legal issues still awaiting it. To me it’s mind boggling that judgments and fines of $20 Billion could possibly have come as good news, but that is how news is interpreted. For some, perhaps more rational, British Petroleum’s inability to have its share price keep up with the likes of its partners in evil, Halliburton (HAL) and Transocean (RIG) is a sign of the legal liability overhang.

For me, it is finally down enough that I am interested in re-purchasing shares last owned a month ago, which to me seems like an eternity, since at the moment I own neither its shares, nor Halliburton or Transocean, usually mainstays of my portfolio. The dividend this week is a bonus.

As long as on the energy theme, Southwestern Energy (SWN) was a potential selection from last week that went unrequited. At this level it still looks like a reasonable trade and resultant ROI after selling an in the money option, in a market that may be taking a little break

The Limited (LTD) is one of those retailers that I never seem to own often enough, which is odd since I’m a serial re-purchaser of stocks that I’ve owned and that subsequently are assigned due to the use of covered calls. It has a good dividend, including regular use of special dividends and trades in a reasonably tight range. During the final week of a monthly option it becomes a bit more appealing to me. However, if not assigned next Friday and faced with owning shares for at least an additional month, it dies go ex-dividend early in the March 2013 option cycle. Although I own more retailers than I would like, at the moment, this is one for which it may be worth bending some diversification rules.

DuPont (DD) was one of those stocks that I regularly owned when I first started selling options. A combination of good premiums, reliable dividends and price appreciation, especially after early 2009 made it a great income generator. These days, lower volatility has taken its toll on the premiums and the availability of only monthly options has made me look elsewhere. However, this week DuPont goes ex-dividend, and as the final week of the monthly option cycle it effectively trades as a weekly option, although you have to be prepared to own it through the next cycle or longer.

Walter Energy (WLT) and Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF) seem to go hand in hand in the speculative corner of my portfolio. It goes ex-dividend this week and always offers a nice option premium in exchange for the risk that is being taken on. A caveat that should be considered for adding new shares is that if shares are not assigned by the end of the week, Walter Energy reports earnings the following week and that may be more excitement than many would want to accept. Writing a deeper in the money call or a longer duration call may be strategies to reduce that kind of stress.

Baidu (BIDU) is one of the very few Chinese companies that I ever consider purchasing. I do, however, miss the days when Muddy Waters would live up to its name and cast aspersions on the accounting practices of some Chinese companies. That always represented a good opportunity to sell puts a few days later and then merrily go on your way when the waters calmed. Someday, I’m fairly confident that most, if not all of the fears that we have regarding accounting practices will become reality. I’m hopeful that it’s not this week, as I already own shares of Baidu by virtue of being assigned $97.50 puts on Friday (February 7, 2013). If you don’t mind wild swings within a 10% range on a seemingly regular basis, Baidu is a good way to generate income. My experience with shares has been that a moment or two after its price performance looks bleak, it bounces right back. It is a good example of why gloom shouldn’t be a deterrent, but I doubt the Postmaster General is paying any attention to me.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) was a potential earnings choice last week. As usual it’s price movements tend to be exaggerated after it announces earnings, particularly since they tend to give pessimistic guidance. Back in the old days you would give pessimistic guidance and then shares would soar when earnings surpassed the forecast. That was so yesterday’s social contract. RIverbed reported record revenues, in-line EPS data, but offered a weak outlook. SO what else is new? Its shares have been one of my greatest option premium producers for years and I look for every opportunity to either own shares or sell puts.

Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) is one of those places that I would love to visit, but know that it may not be worth trading off a few years of my life. It is also one of those companies that tends to have exaggerated moves following earnings release. In this case about 1.4% for a 10% drop in share price. The biggest caveat is that Buffalo Wild Wings has shown that it can easily drop 15% on earnings release.

Cliffs Natural Resources is not for the faint of heart. It bounces around on rumors of the Chinese economy’s well being and global growth. It is a good example of forecaster’s inability to forecast, as it recently fully recovered from a recent major downgrade from Goldman Sachs (GS), which at least was consistent in demonstrating that predicting commodity prices was not one of its strengths. On top of its usual volatility, Cliffs Natural reports earnings this week and has yet to announce its next dividend, which is currently at nearly 7%. I already own shares and have so, on and off for a few months. If I did anything, it would most likely be through the sale of well out of the money puts, seeking to return 1-1.5% for the week.

Finally, it’s yet another retailer, Michael Kors (KORS), and it is a difficult one to ignore as it reports its earnings this week. As with most all “PEE” selections, it is very capable of making large moves upon releasing earnings and providing guidance. In this case, the ratio that may lure me into committing to another retailer is a 1% ROI in exchange for a 10% or less drop in share price.

Traditional Stocks: British Petroleum, Southwestern Energy, The Limited

Momentum Stocks: Baidu, Riverbed Technology

Double Dip Dividend: British Petroleum (ex-div 2/13), DuPont (ex-div2/13), Walter Energy (ex-div 2/13)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Buffalo Wild Wings (2/12 PM), Cliffs Natural (2/12 PM), Kors (2/12 AM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy.

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Weekend Update – February 3, 2013

On Wednesday evening, Bloomberg Rewind host, Matt Miller tweeted that he was interviewing Wilbur Ross in a live segment in a few moments and was soliciting questions for one of the century’s greatest investors and serial turnaround artists.

Never really needing a reason to Tweet, I was nonetheless pleased that my question was chosen, but I especially liked the ultimate answer. I simply wanted to know if the cool and calm demeanor that Wilbur Ross always displays when on television was ever belied by emotion that got in the way of a business or management decision.

The answer was, to me, at least, incredibly profound and absolutely reflective of the persona that we get to see when he makes appearances. Ross said that in takeovers things often do not go as planned, but you have to “roll with the punches.” He further went on to point out that emotions conspire to work against you in making decisions and taking actions. He was calm and collected in his response and barely showed any facial grimacing or twitching when the question was being asked.

I, on the other hand was twitching, contorting and breathing rapidly at the mere use of my question. I do the same with every tick up and down of every stock I own.

My initial thought was that was probably among the best pieces of advice that could ever be given, but it was just too bad that human nature so reflexively intervenes.

One of the things that I like about buying stocks and then selling calls is that it takes so much of the emotion out of the equation. It also frees you from being held hostage to each and every dive that shares can take for no rational reason. This week alone we watched Petrobras (PBR) drop nearly 10% as it announced fuel increases that Deutsche Bank (DB) described as a “positive” action and Chesapeake Energy (CHK) surge 10% on news that their founder and CEO, Aubrey McClendon, would be leaving in 3 months. In the case of Chesapeake Energy that surge was dissipated in just a day, although that may have been as irrational as the initial move.

Recently, large adverse moves impacted shares of Tiffany (TIF) and YUM Brands (YUM) as downgrades, stories, rumors, a smattering of data and a myriad of other factors took their turns at poking holes in whatever support existed for share price. Of course, they weren’t alone in the cross hairs of the barrage of often transiently irrelevant “facts.”

But by and large, if you sell covered options you can roll with the punches. Instead of feeling the anguish when your stock takes a hit it’s similar to seeing road-kill. It’s terrible, it’s a tragedy, but for the most part you realize that in the big picture it’s all just a blip. Those options that someone else was kind enough to buy from you protect you from having to suffer through the anguish and gives you a chance to get over the initial emotional reaction so that when it is time to make a decision, such as at the end of the option period, you can do so with a far less clouded mind.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little Wilbur Ross inside of all of us? Maybe even better would be to be his sole heir, though.

As everyone seemed to be giddy about the fact that the DJIA briefly crossed 140000 for the first time since 2007, I reminded myself of how short a period of time it remained there and then saw that the slopes of the periods preceding the 2007 and 2013 tops are remarkably similar. If anything, maybe a bit more steep this time around?

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Fortunately for me that was the time I learned to start going with the punches and had already started protecting my stocks with calls and then used the premiums generated to purchase more shares during the ensuing drops.

Not that history is ever in a position to repeat itself, but we’ve seen this before.

As always, this week’s potential stock positions are all intended as part of a covered option strategy, whether through the sale of covered calls or puts. The selections fall into the usual categories of Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividends or “PEE” stocks (see details).

As the market found itself celebrating jobs on Friday, one sector that was left behind was retail. Among my favorites this year has been The Gap (GPS). They’re mundane, not terribly innovative, but they are ubiquitous and always a safe fashion choice. Although its next support level appears to be 10% lower it does offer an appealing enough option premium to accept that risk of wearing brown shoes with a tuxedo.

Murphy Oil (MUR) just took a large hit after announcing earnings. More and more I question the extreme earnings related reactions. What seems to separate some stocks from one another is the rapidity at which they recover from those reactions. The faster the recovery the easier it is to call it an over-reaction. Otherwise, if I own such shares and they don’t rebound quickly, it’s just a case of them being under-appreciated. In Murphy Oil’s case, I think it was a welcome over-reaction.

Southwestern Energy (SWN) has been lagging behind some of its sector mates thus far in 2013, but that situation is reversed if looking at the one year comparisons. It reports earnings early in the March 2013 option cycle and I believe may be poised to challenge its 52 week high.

I’m somewhat reluctant to consider adding Intel shares (INTC) this week. The only lure is the dividend that comes along with it as it goes ex-dividend on February 5, 2013. My reluctance stems from the fact that if I add shares my Intel position will be too large and it has been a disappointingly under-performing asset in the months I’ve held shares, having waited a long time for something of a rebound. While I don’t expect $24 or $25 any day soon, I’m comfortable with $21, a dividend and some option premiums. At least that would ease some of the paper cuts on my wrists.

Starbucks (SBUX) another favorite is a reluctant choice this week, as well, but only because of its strong gain in Friday’s trading and the fact that its option contracts are spread a bit too far apart. With more and more options being offered at strike prices in $1 and even $0.50 gradations the $2.50 and $5 differences seen with some stocks makes them less appealing, especially if selling options to optimize income production over share gains. What’s really needed is for more people to read these articles and drive up the option trading voliume as they realize what an opportunity exists.

Chesapeake Energy has been in the news quite a bit this year, but for all of the wrong reasons. AS usual, its high profile story this week concerned its founder and CEO, Aubrey McClendon. The market quickly added 10% to share value upon learning that McClendon will be leaving the company in April 2013. It quickly gave that gain up during the course of the rest of this week. This is a position, that if I decide to enter, would likely be done on the basis of selling put options. That has been a common theme as I’ve re-entered Chesapeake Energy positions over the years.

What again distinguishes this week’s target stocks is that there is greater emphasis on risk, specifically earnings related risk, as Friday’s jobs data numbers fueled a strong week ending rally that further added to already high stock prices, making bargains harder to find.

Acme Packet (APKT) was one of the first earnings related situations that I described in an article entitled “Turning Hatred into Profits” that sought to create income from either disappointment or reaffirmation. It’s share price is higher now than it was the last time around, but I think that a 1% or more ROI for the chance that it’s share price may go down 10% or less after earnings is a reasonable risk-reward venture. If it works again, I may even try to understand what it is that Acme Packet does the next time earnings season rolls around.

Baidu (BIDU) has been on my lists for the past 2 months or so and has been purchased several times. Under the best and calmest of circumstances it is a volatile stock and is sometimes a frustrating one to match strike price premiums with anticipated objectives because the price moves so quickly. As it gets ready to report earnings, it too can easily move 10% in either direction, yet still meet my threshold of 1% ROI for the level of risk taken.

When it comes to stocks that are capable of making big moves in either direction on any given day and especially on earnings, there aren’t many that are better at doing so than Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). This is certainly a stock that has required “going with punches” over the past few years, but it has been a mainstay of my speculative slice of my portfolio for quite a while. I typically think in terms of 25% moves when it comes to earnings. In this case I’m looking at about a 25 to 1 proposition. A 25% drop for securing a 1% profit for one week. If not, then it’s just back to the usual Green Mountain “grind” and selling calls until shares are assigned.

While Herbalife (HLF) has been having all of the fun and getting all of the attention, poor NuSkin (NUS) has been ignored. But, it too, reports earnings this week. I have no opinion on whether NuSkin or any other company are engaged in questionably ethical business practices, I just see it as a vehicle to throw off option premium with relatively little risk, despite it’s overall risky persona. It’s not a stock that I would want to hold for very long, so the availability of only monthly options is of some concern.

Riverbed Technology (RVBD) was one of the most early and most frequent members of my covered call strategy. It always feels strange when I don’t have shares. As it gets ready to report earnings this coming week I’m reminded why it so often makes numerous and sizable movements, especially in response to earnings. It has a bad habit of giving pessimistic guidance, but after a long courtship you learn to accept that failing because even if punished after conference calls it always seems to get right back up.

Finally, Panera Bread (PNRA) reports earnings next week. It too is highly capable of having large earnings related movements. Its CEO has lots of Howard Schultz-like characteristics in that he truly knows the business and every intricate detail regarding his company. Interestingly, it went up almost 4% just 2 trading days before earnings are released. That kind of investor “commitment” before a scheduled event always concerns me, but I’m not yet certain just how much it scares me.

Traditional Stocks: Murphy Oil, The Gap, Southwestern Energy

Momentum Stocks: Chesapeake Energy

Double Dip Dividend: Intel (ex-div 2/5), Starbucks (ex-div 2/5)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Acme Packet (2/4 PM), Baidu (2/4 PM), Panera Bread (2/5 PM), Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (2/6 PM), NuSkin (2/6 AM), Riverbed Technology (2/7 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

Some of the stocks mentioned in this article may be viewed for their past performance utilizing the Option to Profit strategy

 

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Weekend Update – January 27, 2013

By Thursday evening I had already lost track of how many records and new highs had been set as trading was getting ready to enter the final week of January. Depending on the parameters and definitions it seems as if every minute someone was referring to one new market high of one sort or another.

Sometimes I think that the Wilshire 5000 doesn’t get its due recognition, but if the trend continues it will join the party, even if only to have set a record for intra-day trading level on a Tuesday following inauguration.

If they weren’t calling new records they were hyper-focused on just how far we were from a new record. By the way, just for the record, the WIlshire 5000 is 1.3% away from its all time record high.

After a while the meaning of a record becomes less and less. I certainly didn’t feel the special nature of whatever was being watched so closely. S&P 500 at 1500? For me, the only record that counts is 14,164 for the Dow and 1565 on the S&P 500, both more than 5 years ago.

But even those records are meaningless, because all that really matters is where your own assets are residing.

I’d also lost track of how many consecutive gaining days we had other than to remember that last January seemed to be the very same. Like through a million cuts we went higher each and every day, simply setting a record for the number of slices.

You don’t have to be a short seller to bemoan a relentless upward path, but it’s a little more excruciating when there’s no apparent reason for what has caused such despair. At least Ackman knows where Loeb lies.

Alright, it hasn’t really been excruciating and it hasn’t really been a period of despair to live and die by covered option sales. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, as you do share in the market’s gains, but maybe not as much. Of course, that assumes that the next guy is actually taking their profits rather than falling prey to human nature and letting it all ride. I like taking profits on a very regular basis and moving on before the welcome is outstayed.

Records don’t mean very much. Just ask the performance enhanced athletes that are being denied recognition for their accomplishments. I don’t really know what exactly is juicing the markets right now, but I do know that there’s little reason to believe that the recent heights are deserved.

Ultimately, looking back at the record highs of October 2007, I realize that the best performance enhancer since then has been ignoring the occasional mindless melt ups and doing the conservative thing. Collecting penny by penny selling those options until the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. I continually maintain that you don’t have to be a great stock picker or market timer to have your records beat theirs.

And get there sooner.

As volatility keeps setting its own record lows it does become more challenging to get more pennies for your efforts in selling options. Although I’ve never been much of a fan of earnings season, at the very least it does its part to enhance premiums, if you don’t mind the enhanced risk, as well. As a covered call seller risk is not high on the list of favorite things, but there has no be some solace in knowing that a uni-directional move sooner or later has to come to an end. Hopefully, when it does, it won’t be quite as bruising as has been the descent of Apple (AAPL) after its one way journey higher.

As always, the week’s selections are categorized as either being Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend, or “PEE” (see details).

What strikes me this week is how I had a very difficult time identifying a “Traditional” candidate. Over the past month the least well performing sector, Utilities, has nonetheless delivered growth. The makes it difficult to spot potential targets that are also fairly priced.

That brings me to the elephant in the room. For the second week in a row Apple is back on the list. Last week it was a possible earnings related trade. Up until an hour before the close of Wednesday’s trading I thought of selling weekly $480 puts, but decided that having done the same with Mellanox (MLNX) and F5 Networks (FFIV) enough was enough. What exactly does that say when either Mellanox or F5 Networks is thought to be less risky than Apple? It probably says something about my delusional diagnostic methodology rather than the respective companies. But as Apple is now near the last price at which I owned it and closer to a $425 support level, it just seems harder to ignore. I think that once Tim Cook replaces the “WWJD” bracelet on his wrist and gets a new one from which to draw inspiration and guidance, things will get back to normal. The new bracelet would simply be inscribed “WWJD.” The difference? What Would Jobs Do?

With the “Traditional” category so quickly dispatched, it’s another week and another reason to think about adding shares of AIG (AIG). Of course, I wouldn’t have to consider doing that if my one and two week old lots hadn’t been assigned. But the reality is that the shares are always welcome back home. I look at the option premiums as being something like the rent you might collect from your adult child living in the basement.

I wanted so much to pick up shares of Baidu (BIDU) once again last week but it just didn’t get to a good price point. By that I mean that as opposed to barely a month or two ago the extraordinarily low volatility is taking its toll on intrinsic value and making the sale of in the money calls somewhat less of a slam dunk, particularly when the intrinsic value is more than half of the difference between two strike prices. I’m hoping to see Baidu trade within $2 or less of a lower strike price early in the week.

YUM Brands (YUM) should probably have the ticker symbol “YOYO.” It responds more to the conflicting daily rumors regarding the vitality of the Chinese economy than do traditional metrics of growth, such as copper and iron ore. Today’s drop was just another in the recent series of rumors regarding safety of the chicken offerings. It’s hard to imagine that YUM Brands is delivering a lower quality or unsafe product than is generally available to the growing consumer base in China.

There was a time, before Apple, that Texas Instruments (TXN) reporting earnings set the tone for the market. Those days are long gone. In fact, no one really sets that tone anymore, not even IBM (IBM), whose own great earnings and share performance did nothing more than be the sole reason for the Dow’s positive performance on Tuesday, while the S&P fell flat. In the meantime, Texas Instruments has survived its own earnings report and has a decent dividend this week in addition to income streams from its weekly option offerings.

Fastenal (FAST) is just a remarkably stable company whose products are ubiquitous yet out of view. Somehow, the fact that they have about 2600 company owned stores has escaped my view, but somehow they haven’t escaped the end user. More important than the company’s stability is the stability of shares over time. The dividend is fairly meager, but added to its option premium a reasonably safe place to leave money for a little while.

US Steel (X) is a recent and current holding. It is among a large group of high profile companies that are reporting earnings this week and may satisfy being plugged in to the equation that evaluates premiums of put sales relative to potential earnings related stock dives. For US Steel accepting the possibility of a 5% decline can still result in a 1% gain.

Lexmark (LXK) was also a recent holding. I still don’t fully understand where their earnings come from now that they are getting out of the printer business. However. it has shown resilience after the revelation that people on wireless devices just aren’t printing as much as the next guy tethered to a desk and computer. It too may offer an appealing award for accepting the possibility of a sharp earnings related decline.

VMWare (VMW), a one time high flier has settled into a good place. Although it is capable of making large moves after earnings, those moves on a percentage basis are fairly modest. Yet it does regularly offer premiums that are attractive. It’s one time parent EMC Corp (EMC) reports earnings in the morning and may offer some insights for the later reporting VMWare.

And finally, there’s Facebook. I still get a little smirk thinking about the vitriol directed toward me when making the case for buying shares following expiration of the first lock-up period. Just as with Apple, your portfolio isn’t a very good place to park your emotions. Whatever your opinion may be on Facebook the shares, Facebook the IPO, Facebook the company or Facebook the hoodie, it is an appealing trade based upon its earnings release this week.

Traditional Stocks: Apple

Momentum Stocks: AIG, Baidu, YUM Brands

Double Dip Dividend: Fastenal (ex-div 1/30), Texas Instruments (ex-div 1/29)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Lexmark (1/29 AM), Facebook (1/30 PM), US Steel (1/29 AM), VMWare (1/28 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

 

Weekend Update – January 20, 2013

Stocks should never be boring.

People do stupid things when they’re bored.

Trust me, I know. If I were a betting person I would bet that you know that to be true, as well.

After starting with a more than 4% gain in the S&P 500 in the first week of 2013, the subsequent two weeks have been incredibly boring.

When over the course of five trading days the S&P closes at 1472 on four of those days, there’s something missing. In my case, it was trading.

As someone who sells covered options, I love that the concept “reversion to the mean” seems to be realized with great regularity. But if there wasn’t lots of intervening noise from Point A right back to Point A, there wouldn’t be much of a market for buying the options that I was so intent upon selling. Boring markets are an anathema and together its accompanying low volatility conspire to reduce the joy of selling options by increasing risk taking in order to meet income targets from having sold option contracts.

This past week was one of those weeks when the intra-day action was in a state of deep hibernation for much of the time. For me the pinnacle came on Wednesday, but as it would turn out that was wholly appropriate, as Jane Wells, of CNBC pointed out that was “National Do Nothing Day.” She explained the “holiday” in her blog and if you look at the associated video, you can even catch a glimpse of me (want even more?). Somehow, everyone got back to work on Thursday and the market showed some vestiges of past life and excitement, just in time to plan for an upcoming week highlighted by high profile earnings reports.

That should be exciting. Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), IBM (IBM) and much more.

For as long as I’ve been selling options, I did find the timing of Google’s earnings release interesting. Of course, nothing could be as interesting as Google’s last quarter, when it blamed RR Donnelly (RRD) for having released earnings 3 hours earlier than anyone expected or wanted. This time, however, instead of reporting earnings at the close of trading on the Thursday prior to the last day of the monthly option cycle, Google is actually releasing earnings on the first day of the new monthly option cycle.

I’ve always liked the former timing. Now, selling deep out of the money weekly puts on Google shares in anticipation of 5-10% moves in either direction will have too much time to trade on such things as merits and other non-emotional and highly charged issues. Although it’s not on my list this week there still may be good reason to make it happen.

Although this week the potential selections are still categorized as being either Traditional, Momentum, Double Dip Dividend and Premiums Enhanced by earnings, at the moment, in my mind I’m categorizing them as either being Exciting or Boring (see details).

Capital One Finance (COF) has been on my radar screen for a couple of months, but got too expensive on the week that I had initially thought of making the purchase. After getting hit badly on Friday on disappointing earnings, it is right at the price target that had appeal for me in November. The very recent weakness in credit card titans Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA) are felt even more by those that incur credit risk, but Capital One is here to stay.

Starbucks (SBUX) although also reporting earnings this coming week and having a premium enhanced by the prospects of a significant reaction to earnings, has been a good and steady position to own and sell options upon for the past 6 months. I especially look forward to Howard Schultz’s post-earnings interviews. No one knows the marketplace better than he does. Even when the shares are punished after earnings he has credibility and clarity that restores confidence.

Not that I would condone doing so, but for many a cup of coffee and a cigarette go hand in hand. Lorillard (LO) has just concluded its share split and offers an attractive option premium with relatively little undue risk, besides to one’s health and well-being.

Anadarko (APC) is one of those positions that pains me a bit, having happily owned it several times in the past few months. Despite in now trading $5 above my last purchase price and having lost it to assignment, it continues to look attractive, both on the basis of the potential for price appreciation and its option premium. If you never knew joy you would never know pain.

Freeport McMoRan (FCX) continues to be my favorite pick for 2013. The materials sector was a bad under-performer this past week, but I continue to labor under the thesis that China will be forced to expand its GDP more than may be healthy in order to maintain domestic peace during political transfer. We can worry about the effect of over-expansion some other time. In the meantime, Freeport also reports earnings next week, but will do so before the first trade of the week is made.

AIG (AIG) is probably my single most mentioned stock and the one that I most often regret for not having purchased. Over the past month or so I’ve been heeding my own advice and keeping shares on a revolving door basis. As long as they trade in a tight range, even if assigned, it has been worthwhile to repurchase shares.

Baidu (BIDU) is another stock that I’ve owned several times over the past few months. Despite it’s torrid run to $110, I think that there are still opportunities, particularly in selling deep in the money call options. After all, if you can still achieve a 0.5% or higher gain for a week of holding those shares before losing them to assignment at a lower price, is that not better than the S&P 500 is able to do on most weeks?

I haven’t owned shares of Citibank (C) since before the 10:1 reverse split. There’s something unsettling about a bank that trades with a beta of nearly 2, but I think the future is bright as far as price support goes, as there is increasing discussion about the value of Citibank’s component parts. That is very much the same kind of talk that has spurred price appreciation of Bank if America (BAC). While rediscovering price stability, Citibank continues to offer an attractive call premium and makes the risk-reward equation skew toward reward.

What can anyone say about Apple ? I certainly haven’t been shy about expressing my bearish opinion on shares and to the increasingly adverse external environment to which the company was subject. Apple reports earnings after Wednesday’s market close. Although I don’t believe that it will test a support at $425, I do believe that there are opportunities to either sell deep in the money calls or sell deep out of the money puts. If I’m wrong, I will be left owning shares for the first time since $450. It would be as if almost nothing had happened in-between. With so many people now piling on and blasting Apple, it’s beginning to look better and better.

Western DIgital (WDC) is just another of those exciting stocks. I’m not really certain why that’s the case, as the product isn’t terribly exciting and is hard to differentiate from a commodity. It too, reports earnings on Wednesday if you have the stomach for even more excitement.

I don’t look at charts very often or in great depth, but Mellanox Technologies (MLNX) will definitely get your attention if you like charts with slopes approaching infinity. Mellanox makes some very sudden and pronounced moves. With earnings coming up on January 23, 2013 another vertical move may be awaiting anyone with incredible risk tolerance. Since even 20% moves aren’t unheard recently for this semiconductor design and sales company, the option premiums are priced accordingly. Among the caveats is that only month long option contracts are offered and that may be a very long time to sit on a roller coaster. I’m currently looking at selling puts as being more appealing and in the event that Mellanox surprises with an upside move after earnings, I would vacate the position as fast as humanely possible.

Finally, Williams-Sonoma (WSM) is the sole dividend play this week. It too has been bruised by the market’s reaction to its earnings. Somehow Williams Sonoma has the ability to withstand the economy and even when things look grim for the consumer it just keeps on going. It’s a place where you can escape the cares of the real world and pamper yourself before returning to reality. It’s not a terribly exciting stock, but after a week of potentially lots of excitement a little serenity may be a good thing.

Traditional Stocks: Anadarko, Capital One Finance, Lorillard

Momentum Stocks: AIG, Baidu, Citibank, Freeport McMoRan

Double Dip Dividend: Williams Sonoma (ex-div 1/23)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: Apple (1/23 PM), Mellanox (1/23 PM), Starbucks (1/24 PM), Western Digital (1/23 PM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.

 

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Weekend Update – January 13, 2013

Your portfolio is your Preidential Cabinet.

In a week when the biggest story was the signature of the man selected by President Obama to succeed Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary it’s not too surprising that not much happened in the markets.

After more than a 4% gain the prior week a breather was welcome., as shares assigned from my portfolio must have felt as if they had outstayed their welcome.

They hadn’t, but sometimes it’s just time to leave.

The week was a busy one in Executive Office politics as it was the time honored tradition of appointed cabinet officials knowing that it was time to leave . The week demonstrated a strategy to fill cabinet positions that many are finding to be uncomfortable. Some people like the security that comes with known names and entities, while others relish in the unknown and “out of the box” thinkers..

Professional sports is like the former. How else can you explain the consistent recycling of proven losers, while promising new leaders go languishing as they await an opportunity to strut their stuff and lead their teams to victory?

As opposed to the process of assembling a Presidential cabinet under George W. Bush when every face was a very hackneyed and familiar one, this week’s events were quite the opposite, as the choices ranged from the unknown to the disliked. Norv Turner may have qualified for an appointment in the Bush Administration, but not here and not now.

What could confidently be said about Jack Lew, the Treasury Secretary designee, is that his signature suggests that he would be comfortable working together with Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke and add a few extra “zeroes” to the money supply. After all, why stop at just a Trillion Dollar Coin? It’s like 5 minute Abs.

President Obama’s cabinet during his first term was noted for its infrequent turnover and familiar names. That’s how my portfolios used to be and I can’t necessarily complain about its performance. The portfolio was always comprised of well known names, never any speculative issues and they all stayed a long time, through good and bad performance, then good performance and then bad performance, again and again.

As Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced her departure, ostensibly lured by an irresistible Herbalife (HLF) ethnocentric marketing campaign, Raymond LaHood is one of the few leftovers and he should stay just for the humorous name.

That’s not a good enough criterion for stocks, though. These days, I like rapid turnover, but still only have comfort with familiar names. I too may have chosen Donald Rumsfeld, but likely would have been a little distressed if he had not departed within 40 days, or so. I like a portfolio that is more of a sleep-over than a relationship.

After veering significantly from last week’s script in an effort to find lots of replacements for assigned shares, I’m again faced with needing lots of replacements, but at least this past week the overall market wasn’t terribly difficult to top. Think of it as having to find a replacement for Treasury Secretary John Snow. Henry Paulson was pretty good in his own right, but by comparison he really shined.

Still, the challenge of finding potential candidates that aren’t at or near 52 week highs is difficult. Normally, my list is comprised of the same old and reliable names, but this week there are some newcomers that hopefully will get a chance to strut their stuff and then be gone before outwearing their welcome. That’s especially on my mind this week as a number offer only monthly option contracts. I tend to be more willing to consider those stocks in the final week of a monthly cycle, but if they’re not assigned that starts preparing the way to push the 40 day envelope.

As usual, stocks are categorized as either being Traditional, Momentum, Double, Dip Dividend or PEE (see details). As earnings season goes into full gear this week there were actually a large number of candidates to consider for earnings related trades, but often the best opportunities come with some of the lesser known or higher flying names than with the button down early reporters.

I’m not certain that I know anyone that would admit to having, much less using a Discover credit card. I still spend a good portion of my time trying to find a place that will allow me to decide between my Diners Club or Discover. Yet Discover FInancial (DFS) is a reasonable alternative to Visa (V) and MasterCard (MA). Although Discover has outperformed its more respected cousins in the past year, it has greatly under-performed in the past month.

DuPont (DD) used to be one of my favorites. That was back in the days when there were no weekly options, it had an artificially high dividend and great option premiums. These days, I’m not quite as enthused, as the years have taken their toll. But during the last week of an option cycle? Why not? Besides, with all of the portfolio new comers, it’s good to have a familiar face or two to keep things grounded.

Speaking of grounds, Starbucks (SBUX), although higher than the last time I owned it, just a few months ago, appears to be running on all cylinders. I’m not certain that anyone knows and understands his company as well as Howard Schultz understands Starbucks. Even in the face of a negative earnings report two quarters ago, Schultz effused so much confidence in responding to the market’s reflexive response to “bad” news, that you had to be inspired about the company’s prospects.

These days, I’m not certain that I should still categorize AIG (AIG) along with my other “Momentum” stocks. Its option premiums are less and less like those of others in that category. AIG is a stock that I often wish I had read my own weekly words and bought much more frequently than I had done. Along the lines of inspiration, every time I see its CEO, Robert BenMosche on air, I think that he is truly a hero of American business and finance. Instead of remembering the villains, we should laud the heroes.

US Steel (X) could be one of my newcomer stocks this week. I don’t have any particular thesis. I simply like the premium, but am respectful of the risk. US Steel does report earnings on January 29, 201 and am not certain that I would want to be holding shares going into earnings. Since it does trade a weekly option, there would be at least two escape opportunities prior to earnings.

Yahoo! (YHOO) is another stock that I haven’t owned in a while, having waited for its return to $16. Following its drop this past week I feel a bit more comfortable considering a purchase after its resurrection.

Footlocker (FL) is another one of the new comers that doesn’t necessarily inspire me on the basis of any underlying theme. Like Us Steel it has a nice option premium, but only trades a monthly option. The upcoming dividend may tip the scales for me as the stock hasn’t had the same kind of run-up that its products should equip the owner for.

Lowes (LOW), for all of its commendable performance, is a stock that I only look toward as it approaches its ex-dividend date. It too offers only a monthly option, but like Foot Locker, going ex-dividend in the final week of the monthly option cycle makes ownership more palatable.

eBay (EBAY) is another stock that I own too infrequently. That may change as it’s come over to the weekly options family. It reports earnings this week and will likely be as good as its PayPal division allows it to be. It’s no longer the highly volatile stock of yesterday, but still offers a reasonable risk-reward ratio in the same 5% range on strike price.

Having missed the entire move in the entire housing sector doesn’t preclude entry, it just includes risk. Lennar (LEN) will report earnings this coming week and I expect a break in its upward trajectory. In the past its shares have not over-responded to earnings news, so the risk reward may be present at the 5% level, rather than the 10% level that I often find comfort in. If prices hold up prior to earnings release and I can obtain a 1% premium for selling a put at a strike 5% below the current price or selling an in the money call at a similar strike, this may be a good candidate for a short term dalliance.

Traditional Stocks: Discover Financial, DuPont, Starbucks

Momentum Stocks: AIG, US Steel, Yahoo!

Double Dip Dividend: Foot Locker (ex-div 1/16), Lowes (ex-div 1/18)

Premiums Enhanced by Earnings: eBay (1/16 PM), Lennar (1/15 AM)

Remember, these are just guidelines for the coming week. Some of the above selections may be sent to Option to Profit subscribers as actionable Trading Alerts, most often coupling a share purchase with call option sales. Alerts are sent in adjustment to and consideration of market movements, in an attempt to create a healthy income stream for the week with reduction of trading risk.